Saturday, December 31, 2016

MexPac playoff berths set; reinforcements picked

The Mexican Pacific League's 2016-17 regular season concluded Friday night, with playoff matchups determined prior to Monday's postseason openers.  The six qualifying teams also drafted two players apiece from the two clubs who failed to continue their seasons into January.

Despite a 4-3 loss at Los Mochis on Friday, Navojoa won the LMP's second half title with a 21-12 record, picking up 8 points for a season total of 12.  Their win over the Mayos meant the Caneros also finished the year with 12 points while first-half champion Culiacan ended up with 12 points.  The three-way points logjam was broken up by Navojoa's league-best 39-28 season record, making the Mayos the top playoff seed.  Los Mochis is the second seed after finishing a game behind Navojoa overall with a 38-29 mark while Culiacan's 36-32 record bumped them down to the third seed.  The fourth through sixth seeds belong to Hermosillo, Mazatlan and Mexicali, respectively.

 The first playoff round will open Monday, January 2 with Mexicali playing at Navojoa, Hermosillo visiting Culiacan and Mazatlan traveling to Los Mochis.  All MexPac playoff series will be best-of-7 affairs following the traditional 2-3-2 format for game sites.  The only travel day in the first round will be Wednesday, January 4 with all Game 7's (if needed) scheduled for Monday the 9th.

Game 1 (MON, 11/2)
Mexicali at Navojoa, Hermosillo at Culiacan, Mazatlan at Los Mochis
Game 2 (TUE, 11/3)
Mexicali at Navojoa, Hermosillo at Culiacan, Mazatlan at Los Mochis
Game 3 (THU, 11/5)
Navojoa at Mexicali, Culiacan at Hermosillo, Los Mochis at Mazatlan
Game 4 (FRI, 11/6)
Navojoa at Mexicali, Culiacan at Hermosillo, Los Mochis at Mazatlan
*Game 5 (SAT, 11/7)
Navojoa at Mexicali, Culiacan at Hermosillo, Los Mochis at Mazatlan
*Game 6 (SUN, 11/8)
Mexicali at Navojoa, Hermosillo at Culiacan, Mazatlan at Los Mochis
*Game 7 (MON, 11/9)
Mexicali at Navojoa, Hermosillo at Culiacan, Mazatlan at Los Mochis
*-If necessary

Meanwhile, the first round of reinforcement drafts was held Friday as the six playoff teams each chose two players from the two non-postseason teams, the Obregon Yaquis and Jalisco Charros.  Teams drew lots for draft order, with Navojoa pulling the long straw for the first and last picks.  Here is the list of reinforcements chosen in the order taken:

  1. Navojoa, LHP Fabio Castro (Obregon)
  2. Hermosillo, OF Dustin Martin (Obregon)
  3. Mexicali, 3B Agustin Murillo (Jalisco)
  4. Culiacan, 2B Jose Rodriguez (Jalisco)
  5. Los Mochis, RHP Sergio Romo (Jalisco)
  6. Mazatlan, LHP Arturo Lopez (Obregon)
  7. Mazatlan, SS Amadeo Zazueta (Jalisco)
  8. Los Mochis, 2B Olmo Rosario (Obregon)
  9. Culiacan, LHP Tyler Alexander (Jalisco)
10. Mexicali, OF Leo Heras (Obregon)
11. Hermosillo, RHP Craig Stern (Obregon)
12. Navojoa, RHP Daniel Guerrero (Jalisco)

The selection of Fabio Castro (pictured) with the first overall pick is a bit of a puzzler.  Although the 31-year-old Dominican looked quite good in his six starts for Obregon, going 2-2 with a 1.82 ERA over 32.1 innings, the 5'7" lefty has had an otherwise pedestrian pro career.  Castro pitched in seven MLB organizations between 2003 and 2012, including cups of coffee with Texas and Philadelphia, before spending 2013 through 2015 with three teams in the Mexican League (he was 13-3 for Quintana Roo in 2014).  Castro didn't pitch at all in 2016 before joining the Yaquis in late November.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Mayos clinch second half title; LMP playoff field set

The Navojoa Mayos delivered a 12-7 beating to the Los Mochis Caneros Thursday night in Mochis, clinching the Mexican Pacific League's second half championship. The win gives the Mayos a 21-11 second-half record and a two-game lead over second-place Mazatlan (19-13) with one game remaining in the regular season.  The Venados are one game up on Los Mochis and Mexicali, who are both 18-14, so their final points totals (and playoff seedings) won't be determined until after Friday night.

Conversely, the Jalisco Charros and Oregon Yaquis are tied for last place in the MexPac with identical 12-20 records and both sit two games behind Hermosillo and Culiacan, who are knotted up in fifth place at 14-18.  As a result, neither Jalisco nor Obregon will be appearing in the playoffs, which will begin next week. Culiacan effectively ended Jalisco's season by defeating the Charros, 6-5, in Guadalajara Thursday night.  Obregon topped Mazatlan by an 11-4 count Thursday on a night in which all four road teams picked up a win as Hermosillo won, 8-2, in Mexicali.

Let's take a quick look at where things stand for each team with one game left in the LMP schedule:

NAVOJOA (21-11) has clinched the second half title and the 8 points that come with it.  The Mayos picked up 4 points in the first half and will finish at 12.0 no matter what happens Friday.

MAZATLAN (19-13) has clinched a postseason berth despite an awful 9-26 first half.  If the defending champion Venados win Friday, they'll collect 7 second-half points for a season total of 10.

LOS MOCHIS (18-14) is tied with Mexicali in the standings but would get the nod for third (and 6 points) due to a winning record in head-to-head games with the Aguilas.  A Caneros win Friday equals 12 points over two halves.

MEXICALI (18-14) needs a win over Hermosillo and a Mochis loss to Navojoa to earn 6 points for a season total of 10.5.  An Aguilas loss to the Naranjeros means 9.5 season points and a lower seed.

HERMOSILLO (14-18) is tied with Culiacan for fifth place but would earn 4.5 points via their record against the Tomateros.  A Friday win would translate to 11.5 season points, a loss means 11.0 points.

CULIACAN (14-18) could conceivably be the top playoff seed thanks to their first half crown, but needs a win at Jalisco coupled with an Hermosillo loss to Mexicali to clinch fifth place and 12.5 points overall.

JALISCO (12-20) is tied with Obregon for seventh place but the Charros get the 3.5 second-half points if the tie holds because they bested the Yaquis in direct competition, but will finish last in overall points regardless.

OBREGON (12-20) could end up with those 3.5 points if the Yaquis win and Jalisco loses Friday, but it won't matter in either case...the best points total they can finish with is 8.5, one full point behind Mexicali. They're done.

And here we are.  There's some potential shuffling of the deck depending on what transpires in Friday night's regular season finales, but the six cards still be in play next week (and the two discards) have been determined for what promises to be a very interesting and competitive postseason.  This season's edition of the MexPac has seen some of the most evenly-matched teams in recent years and nobody should be shocked if the sixth playoff seed goes on to win the pennant.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mexico moves up to sixth in WBSC's global rankings; to play Padres, Diamondbacks before WBC

Mexico's star in international baseball continues to rise as the country's National Team has moved past Venezuela into sixth place in the latest World Baseball & Softball Confederation rankings ahead of next year's World Baseball Classic.

The WBSC is located in Lausanne, Switzerland and serves as the governing body for international baseball and fastpitch after the former International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and International Softball Federation (ISF) merged in 2013.  They also publish rankings for women's baseball, men's fastpitch and women's fastpitch.

The WBSC's final baseball rankings for 2016 show Japan maintaining first place with 5,699 points while the United States remained in second with 4,928 points.  South Korea moved up from fourth to third with 4,849 points to slip past Taiwan, who fell to fourth place at 4,261.  Cuba held onto their fifth-place ranking at 3,857 points, ahead of Mexico in sixth at 3,081.  The top ten is rounded out by Venezuela, Canada, The Netherlands and Italy.  In other WBSC rankings, Mexico's men's fastpitch team moved up one slot to 9th (New Zealand is first) while Mexico's women's fastpitch club vaulted four places to tenth (Japan remained on top of that list).  Mexico's women's baseball team is unranked.

Mexico, Venezuela and Italy will be joined by 12th-ranked Puerto Rico next March for World Baseball Classic Pool D play at Estadio Charros in Guadalajara in what may prove to be one of the most intriguing of the four WBC first-round groupings.  Prior to the March 9 Pool D opener between Mexico and Italy, the Grandes Verde will spend three days at the Peoria, Arizona spring training complex shared by the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.  The stay will include a pair of exhibition games against MLB teams:  On Tuesday, March 7, Mexico will take on the Padres at 1:10PM Mountain time at Peoria Stadium, followed by a 1:10PM tilt on Wednesday, March 8 against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt Rivers Fields at the Talking Stick Resort in nearly Scottsdale before flying to Guadalajara for the WBC.

Mexican manager Edgar Gonzalez, who is currently helmsman of the Mexican Pacific League's Jalisco Charros in Guadalajara, is in the early stages of assembling his roster.  Brother Adrian Gonzalez (the Dodgers' five-time All-Star first baseman) has indicated he'll be playing in his fourth WBC, infielder Danny Espinosa (who was recently traded to the Angels after seven seasons with the Nationals) has committed and outfielder Khris Davis (whose mother is a Culiacan native) will patrol the outfield after swatting 42 homers with 102 RBIs for the A's last summer.  Mexico's pitching staff will include starter Jaime Garcia (who won 20 games for the Cardinals in 2015-16 before being dealt to the Braves earlier this month), Jays closer Roberto Osuna (36 saves in 2016), two-time Royals All-Star reliever Joakim Soria (203 career saves) and longtime MLB hurler Oliver Perez (69-86 over 14 seasons), who spent last season in the Nats bullpen.

Monday, December 26, 2016

MexPac regular season enters final week

One week remains in the Mexican Pacific League regular season with all eight teams still in the hunt for six berths in the LMP's January playoffs.  The schedule will conclude with four three-game series played Wednesday through Friday before the postseason begins next week.

Defending Caribbean Series champion Mazatlan (with a second-half record of 18-11) holds a precarious half-game lead over Los Mochis and Navojoa after losing to Culiacan (12-17) by a 2-1 score Christmas Night with 16,912 in the stands at the Tomateros' Estadio BBVA Bancomer.  Culiacan scored twice in the bottom of the ninth, with Joey Meneses (pictured) punching a walkoff line-drive single to left and driving in Ramiro Peno with the winning run.  Oliver Perez earned the win in relief for the Tomateros, striking out three of the four Venados batsmen he faced in the top of the ninth after eight solid innings from starter Edgar Gonzalez.  After the two-game set ends Monday, the Venados will go home to take on Obregon while the Tomateros travel to Guadalajara to face the Jalisco Charros.

Los Mochis (17-11) will open a two-game set in Hermosillo (12-16) Monday night before wrapping up with three games at home against Navojoa (17-11).  The Mayos were crushed by Jalisco (11-17) at home Sunday, 10-1.  Navojoa starter Salvador Robles was chased with one out in the fifth inning after allowing five Charros runs on seven hits and two walks to fall to 1-4 on the season. Veteran second baseman Jose Rodriguez was Jalisco's biggest bopper, going 3-for-5 with a double, driving in two runs and scoring once.  Jalisco plays two more in Navojoa before welcoming Culiacan to Estadio Charros for their final three games.

In the other Christmas Night tilt, Obregon (11-18) held off a late Mexicali (16-13) rally to defeat the Aguilas, 6-4, before 10,037 onlookers at Nuevo Estadio Yaquis. Obregon starter Fabio Castro left the game in the sixth with a comfortable 6-1 advantage, bur Mexicali touched relievers Kenneth Sigman and Craig Stern for three runs on four hits in the top of the ninth, including a two-run single from pinch-hitter Adan Munoz, before Stern was able to record the final two outs of the game.  Outfielder Dustin Martin, playing his first game of the winter for Obregon, appeared playoff-ready in going 2-for-3 with two ribbies and plating a run himself.  After their short series ends Monday, the Yaquis travel to Mazatlan while the Aguilas head home to host Hermosillo in a three-game set.  The Naranjeros were inactive over the weekend.

Whew!  If that seemed convoluted with all the scheduling redundancies, imagine trying to write it.

Barring a batting meltdown of epic proportions, Mexicali catcher Luis Juarez should win the LMP hitting title.  It's been an unprecedented season for the 5'8" product from Culiacan, whose .368 average is 22 points ahead of second-place Leandro Castro of Los Mochis (.346).  The 26-year-old Juarez, better known for his glove than his bat, has never hit above .303 in either the LMP or the summer Mexican League since his Liga debut in 2009.  Hermosillo veteran flychaser Chris Roberson is third at .332.  Roberson's Naranjeros teammate, infielder Jose Amador, remains stuck at 14 homers after another week without a roundtripper, but that's still enough to lead the LMP in that category.  Second-place C.J. Retherford went deep for Mexicali last Wednesday to raise his total to 11 while Navojoa's Quincy Latimore still has 10.  Amador's 56 RBIs give him a comfortable league lead over Mazatlan's Brian Hernandez, who has 47.

Obregon outfielder Corey Wimberly remains the MexPac leader in stolen bases with 16, one more than Navojoa's Randy Arozarena in a race that may be determined as much by attrition as speed.  Wimberly has played only one game for the Yaquis since December 17 while the Cardinals organization has apparently shut down Arozarena for the winter.  Things don't get any better with another Obregon gardener, Justin Greene, who is tied for third with 12 swipes.  Greene was shelved October 29 after a bunt attempt tipped a pitched ball into his face, and his winterball season apparently ended for good after six comeback games in mid-November.  Former MLB outfielder Eric Young, Jr. of Hermosillo also had 12 steals before playing his last game on November 20, ironically the same date as Greene's final appearance.  Also tied for third is Mazatlan outfielder Jeremias Pineda, who DID play Sunday for the Venados but may want to look both ways before lighting out for second from now on.  Just in case.

Among LMP pitchers, it would be hard to find a hurler with more hard luck than Juan Pablo Oramas of Hermosillo.  The 2009 Mexican League Rookie of the Year, Oramas has led the MexPac in earned-run average most of the current season and still tops the list with a 2.31 mark after 12 starts, but only has a 4-3 record to show for it.  Oramas has not won since a November 29 triumph over Jalisco.  In an interesting side note, Oramas has only started one game on the road since November 5.  Obregon lefty Arturo Lopez is second at 2.36 to go with his 5-1 record while Navojoa's Hector Velazquez has moved up to third on the ERA table at 2.39.

Velazquez, who has the inside track for LMP Pitcher of the Year honors, beat Hermosillo last Thursday to take sole possession of the wins race in raising his record to 8-3 (one more than last winter's POY, Javier Solano, who is 7-4 for Mexicali) and his 81 strikeouts in 79 innings is best in the MexPac.  Jalisco's Tyler Alexander is second with 72 Ks.  Mexicali closer Jake Sanchez earned two more saves last week to bring his winter total to 18, six more than Mazatlan's Roberto Espinoza.  Sanchez has allowed just one earned run in 27 appearances for the Aguilas for an ERA of 0.31 (that is not a typo) and he has walked just five batters over 28.2 innings.  If Velazquez has a challenger for the LMP's best pitcher this season, Sanchez is the guy.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Pitchers Barreda, Leon sign with MLB organizations

A pair of pitchers who've plied their trade in Mexican baseball in 2016 have signed contracts with Major League Baseball organizations for next season.  Manny Barreda came to terms with the Atlanta Braves while Arcenio Leon has inked a pact with the Detroit Tigers.

Barreda was signed by the Braves on the heels of making the most of the first complete game of his ten-year professional career on November 26, tossing a ho-hitter for the Mexican Pacific League's Los Mochis Caneros' 2-0 win over Hermosillo. Barreda was one walk and one error away from a perfect game against the Naranjeros, throwing 138 pitches during his effort.  Following the signing, Atlanta general manager John Coppolella said on Twitter, "We signed a pitcher from the Mexican League whose name is Manny Barreda. We are always looking for talent in Mexico. We want a future (Julio) Urias."

Barreda was the Yankees' 12th round draft pick from Sahuarita High School in 2007 and started his pro career in the Gulf Coast League that summer, turning in a 5-0 record with a save over three starts and eight trips from the bullpen.  He spent the majority of his first eight pro seasons in the Yanks' chain before going to the Brewers organization for a year and a half in 2014.  His nine-year totals between the two systems included a 23-13 record (8 saves) and a 3.56 ERA while limiting opponents to a .233 batting average.  Solid, but relatively nondescript.

Barreda joined Tijuana of the Mexican League late in the 2015 season and pitched for the Toros through last summer, also as a reliever, going 2-1 with 1 save and a 3.99 ERA in that time.  Pitching this winter for Los Mochis, however, he's been converted to a starting role by Caneros manager Luis Sojo and is making the most of it.  Barreda is a so-so 3-3 after 11 starts, but his 2.40 ERA is fourth in the MexPac while his 1.13 WHIP is tied with Jalisco's Tyler Alexander as best in the loop among starters.  Barreda will attend the Braves spring training camp in Lake Buena Vista, Florida after the conclusion of the current season.

The 30-year-old Leon will initially be assigned to the Tigers' AAA Toledo affiliate in the International League after signing with Detroit a few weeks ago.  A native of Maracaibo, Venezuela, the 6'3" right-hander toiled for eight seasons in the Astros minor league system between 2005 and 2012 before spending two more summers in the Brewers system and one more in 2015 with the White Sox' AAA Charlotte farm club.  Over 11 summers in organized baseball, usually serving as a middleman, Leon had a career mark of 24-36 with 25 saves and a 4.63 ERA in 342 appearances (including 25 starts).  Last summer, Leon made his Mexican League debut with the Monclova Acereros, quickly becoming the team's closer and going on to lead the Liga with 36 saves in 42 opportunities, augmented by a 5-4 record and a respectable 3.30 earned-run average.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Tigers GM Avila said, "Even the good teams are looking for that's one area where, this winter, I would see us heavily involved in the six-year minor league free agent market trying to sign some pitching depth to help us because we can use it throughout the year."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rojas in hot water, to manage Aguascalientes in '17

Yes, another story about a managerial change in Mexican baseball.  Like Aunt Minerva's fruitcake, the topic is a gift that keeps on giving and regiving and regiving. This time, it's Homar Rojas' turn. Again.

Rojas (pictured at right with GM Jose Luis Garcia), who was fired a month ago as skipper for the Mexican Pacific League's Jalisco Charros, has signed on to manage the Aguascalientes Rieleros of the Mexican League.  He thus becomes the 30th manager in Aguascalientes team history, which dates back to 1975, including two four-year absences beginning in 2000.  The current edition joined the Liga as an expansion team in 2012, reaching the playoffs that year for the only time in their current five-year existence.

The 52-year-old Rojas is a Nuevo Leon native who broke into pro ball as a catcher with Monterrey in 1982, embarking on a 23-year career that included four years in the Dodgers organization in the late Eighties.  When he retired as a player following the 2004 season, playing 1,487 games in 19 LMB campaigns and compiling a .291 average with 138 homers.  His offseason came with the Mexico City Tigres in 1986, when he hit .319 with 23 homers before signing with the Dodgers in the offseason.

Rojas began his managerial career in 2005 with Oaxaca, with whom he spent his last seven campaigns as a player.  After four years at the helm of the Guerreros, during which they went 202-226, he moved to Reynosa and spent another four seasons running the Broncos, who turned in a 214-213 mark between 2009 and 2012.  After one year in Campeche (47-63 in 2013), Rojas was the dugout boss in Monclova from 2014 through this summer.  He was 176-145 with the Acereros, including the LMB North title in 2015 for a 12-year career ledger of 639-647. Research has not turned up whether Rojas left Monclova by choice or invitation. Despite his ouster in Jalisco last month, Rojas has had more luck managing in winterball, winning MexPac pennants with Obregon in 2007-08 and Hermosillo in 2009-10.

He'll have his work cut out for him with the Rieleros, whose lineup boasted BBM Summer Batter of the Year Diory Hernandez (.319 with 23 homers and an LMB-best 97 RBIs), who led the team to fourth-place finishes in batting (.292), homers (98), ribbies (554) and stolen bases (89).  Pitching was another story, however, as the Rieleros came in 12th in the circuit with a 4.97 ERA, finishing the season with a 53-58 record with veteran DH Saul Soto serving as player-manager following Marco Romero's firing in July.  Aguascalientes finished ninth in attendance, drawing 153,048 fans to 9,000-seat Parque Alberto Romo Chavez over 53 openings for an average of 2,888 turnstile clicks per night.

By the way, a loose translation of "aguascalientes" from Spanish to English is "hot waters," in case the headline was a puzzler.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Mazatlan leads by 2 games; another skipper canned

The Mazatlan Venados shut out the potent Mexicali Aguilas, 2-0, Sunday night in the border city to maintain their two-game lead in the Mexican Pacific League's second-half standings.  The Deer have a 16-8 record, ahead of Mexicali, Navojoa and Los Mochis, who are tied for second at 14-10 with nine games left in the regular season.

A crowd of 12,178 at Estadio B'Air looked on as nine-year minor league veteran Jeremy Kehrt (pictured) tossed seven innings of shutout ball for Mazatlan in picking up his second win in as many starts.  Kehrt went a combined 8-11 for the Dodgers' AAA Oklahoma City and AA Tulsa affliates last summer.  A University of Southern Indiana product, the 6'2" righty spent seven years in the Red Sox system before becoming a Dodgers farmhand in 2015.  This is his fifth season of winterball but first in the LMP.  Perhaps his two wins for Mazatlan will aid his inclusion in the Venados roster on the team website.

The Venados' turnaround after a last-place finish in the first half has come under manager Daniel Fernandez, who replaced Juan Jose Pacho on November 23. Pacho led Mazatlan to the Caribbean Series title last February but in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of Mexican baseball, that was forgotten in the wake of a 9-28 record over the first six weeks of the current season.  Pacho remains with the Venados organization in a lesser capacity...just in case.  Fernandez spent 25 years as an outfielder with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and hit .313 for his career before becoming manager of the Red Devils in 2008, when he won the Mexican League pennant.  He was fired after a first-round playoff loss in 2009 despite posting the Liga's best regular season record and has been on the carousel ever since.

Canning season among MexPac managers took another victim last last Thursday when Culiacan cut ties with Lino Rivera (with the ever-present press release praise for Rivera's work accompanying his firing).  Rivera's crime after winning the first half title with a 22-13 record was stumbling out the second stanza gate to a 6-15 mark. Enrique "Che" Reyes, a familiar figure on Mexico's managerial merry-go-round, was tabbed to replace Rivera.  The Tomateros lost two of three under Reyes in Navojoa over the weekend and currently occupy last place in the standings (although their 8 first-half points virtually guarantees a playoff berth in January).

Catcher Luis Juarez of Mexicali witnessed his own managerial change with the Aguilas a month ago (Gil Velazquez out, Roberto Vizcarra in), but seems to have gotten over it and leads the LMP with a .357 batting average.  Juarez, a Culiacan native who's spent all or part of eight summers with the Monterrey Sultanes, has gone 14-of-33 (.424) with 8 walks over his last ten games for a .524 on-base percentage in that span.  Hermosillo's Jose Amador went homerless last week but still leads the MexPac with 14 longballs, four more than Quincy Latimore of Navojoa.  Amador also leads the loop with 55 RBIs, ahead of the 44 from Mazatlan's Brian Hermandez.  Obregon's Corey Wimberly stole one base last week but that was enough to scoot ahead of Navojoa rookie Randy Arozarena on the steals tables, 17 to 16.  Arozarena was placed on the Mayos' reserve list last Thursday, presumably shut down for the winter by the Cardinals organization (with whom the Cuban utilityman signed in August).

Navojoa pitcher Hector Velazquez went to 7-3 last Thursday at home against Mexicali, hurling seven innings of one-run, four-hit ball against the Aguilas and striking out four.  He is tied with Mexicali's Javier Solano for most wins, leads the LMP with 78 strikeouts and his 2.43 ERA ranks fourth.  Although Solano (7-4) has pitched a shutout, his 3.91 ERA indicates a bit more offensive support than Velazquez has enjoyed.  Juan Pablo Oramas of Hermosillo has a 4-2 record with six no-decisions in 12 starts, but the lefty's MexPac-leading 2.34 ERA implies that he's been holding up his end of the bargain.  The 2009 Mexican League Rookie of the Year with Mexico City, Oramas subsequently spent five years in the Padres system before returning to the Diablos in 2015, going a combined 15-8 the past two summers.  Mexicali closer Jake Sanchez saw his streak of nine saves in as many appearances snapped when he picked up his first win of the winter Saturday against Mazatlan, but the Californian's 16 saves for the season remains tops on that list.

Friday, December 16, 2016

LMB to allow nine Mexican-Americans per team in '17

One of the most contentious issues in Mexican baseball in 2016 has been the classification of American ballplayers of Mexican descent.  There have been a number of such players in the Mexican League over the years, of course, but the topic came to a boil last summer when Monterrey Sultanes owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz (pictured) unloaded criticism on the Tijuana Toros for carrying what he felt was an inordinate amount of Mexican-Americans on their roster en route to the LMB Championship Series against eventual champion Puebla.

Some observers mighr write Maiz' comments off as sour grapes in the wake of Monterrey's loss to Tijuana in the North Division title series.  However, they served to bring to surface a schism of sorts that has bubbled beneath the surface for some time between owners who can afford to develop domestic talent without relying on extraneros and other owners lacking the resources to go that route, needing to import players to be competitive on the field.   The rift led to a handful of teams threatening to leave the league altogether and a move to force out LMB president Plinio Escalante.

With all that, the Liga has decided that for the 2017 season, each of the loop's 16 teams will be allowed to list up to nine Mexican-Americans on their roster as "domestic" players while maintaining the limit of other foreign players to six per club.  To promote the development of domestic talent, teams will be required to carry at least two Mexican-born rookies during the season.  "Mexican first" owners such as Alfredo Harp Helu of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Quintana Roo Tigres owner Carlos Peralta (whose father Alejo was reknowned for fielding all-Mexican nines during their own days in the nation's capital) are likely unhappy with the compromise, but less well-heeled franchises will be better able to address on-field needs by bringing in American-born Mexicanos.  Still, there may always be tensions between those wanting to upgrade the overall quality of Mexican League baseball by importing players and others who believe the LMB should be more devoted to developing domestic talent.

The 72-year-old Maiz is himself an example of a homegrown baseball product.  As a 12-year-old left fielder, he helped Monterrey become the first team from outside the USA to win the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pennsylvnia in 1957.  Maiz also played in the 1959 Pony League World Championships (leading the tournament in batting) and the 1961 Colt League World Series before going on to earn a business degree at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education and working for his father's construction firm, which he has headed since the elder Maiz' death in 2006.  The younger Maiz bought the Sultanes in 1986 and was inducted into Mexican baseball's Salon de la Fama in 2002.  He also served as the director of Mexican Little League Baseball in 2008 and 2009.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Edgar Gonzalez named Jalisco manager

Houston Jimenez must feel like a serial bridesmaid who never catches the wedding bouquet.  The former big league shortstop and veteran Mexican baseball manager has taken the reins of the Jalisco Charros twice in the past month after owner Armando Navarro let go one manager, only to have to hand the reins to a new manager following brief stints as dugout boss.  Last month, Jimenez filled in for two games after Homar Rojas was fired before Felix Fermin was brought in to manage the team.  Now, after leading the Charros for two games when Fermin stepped down for "health reasons," less than one month into the job, Jimenez once again is stepping aside for a new skipper.  This time it's Edgar Gonzalez.

Gonzalez (pictured between Sergio Romo and Navarro), you'll recall, was named the Mexican Pacific League Manager of the Year last winter after leading the Mexicali Aguilas to a 38-29 record during the regular season before piloting the Eagles to the LMP championship series against Mazatlan.  It was his first year as a manager and he was rewarded by being named manager of Mexico's national team in early 2016.  Gonzalez stepped down as the Aguilas helmsman before leading Mexico to a sweep of a World Baseball Classic qualifier against Nicaragua, Germany and the Czech Republic in Mexicali last March to qualify for next March's 16-team main event.

The older brother of Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (who'll play for Mexico in the WBC), Edgar was born June 14, 1978 in San Diego, California to Mexican parents.  Father David, an Obregon native, has been deeply involved in baseball on both sides of the border for decades and will serve as a coach under his son when the Verde Grande open their WBC pool schedule in three months in Guadalajara.  Edgar completed his college career at San Diego State in 2000, after which he was selected in the 30th round of the June draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  That began a minor league odyssey that included nine seasons with six organizations before he made his major league debut at age 29 on May 12, 2008 when he played second base for the San Diego Padres alongside brother Adrian after being called up from AAA Portland.

Gonzalez spent two seasons with the Padres, batting .255 with 11 homers in 193 games between 2008 and 2009 before crossing the Pacific to spend a year in Tokyo with the storied Yomiuri Giants.  He batted .263 with 12 homers over 100 games at second base for the Kyojin in 2010 before returning to North America to spend a year with the SF Giants' AAA Fresno affiliate.  Then he went back to Japan for one more season with Yomiuri (.236 and 4 HRs in 57 games) in 2012 prior to wrapping up his playing career with AAA Iowa in the Cubs organization in 2013 and 2014.  He also spent parts of five winterball seasons playing alongside Adrian in the Mazatlan Venados infield between 2005 and 2009.  In all, Gonzalez played 1,526 games at all levels of his 15-year pro career, batting .288 with 119 homers and stealing 115 bases.

The Charros held a press conference Tuesday to present Gonzalez as their latest manager while also introducing MLB reliever Sergio Romo to the Guadalajara media after he'd joined the team on the road last week. Jalisco dropped their first game under Gonzalez Tuesday night with a 9-4 loss in 12 innings to Obregon in front of 9,129 fans at Estadio Charros.  The defeat dropped the seventh-place Charros to a 6-13 record in the MexPac's second half after they came in seventh with a 15-19 mark in the first half.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Romo makes debut under new Charros skipper

It’s been another wild week in Guadalajara, where a prominent MLB reliever made his debut while a former MLB shortstop was relieved as manager after losing 11 of 17 games in three weeks on the job.

Sergio Romo (pictured) joined the Jalisco Charros last week and picked up a save in his Mexican Pacific League debut December 7 in Mexicali, tossing two shutout innings and striking out for Aguilas in the Charros’ 3-0 win.  Things went a little tougher on the 10th, when Romo allowed a run on two hits in 1.1 frames to take the 3-2 loss at Los Mochis.  Romo is a free agent this winter after nine seasons, two World Series titles and an All-Star Game appearance for the San Francisco Giants.  Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna has signed with Jalisco for the rest of the LMP season but has yet to appear.

When that happens, it’ll be former Twins shortstop and longtime Mexican baseball figure Houston Jimenez calling Osuna in from the bullpen.  Jimenez was named manager of the Charros after Felix Fermin stepped down for “health reasons.”  Given that the Charros were 6-11 in three weeks under the former Indians and Mariners shortstop after he replaced Homar Rojas in late November, it may have been team owner Armando Navarro who felt ill and thought yet another change in skippers might be a cure.  It’s been a tough few weeks for Fermin, who was canned in early November by the Cibaenas Aguilas and replaced by Manny Acta.  He’d managed the Eagles since 2000 and became the winningest manager in Dominican history.

In just his third season owning a MexPac franchise, Navarro has already made his mark by bringing the Guasave Algodoneros to Guadalajara (where he purchased and renovated the ballpark), a successful move at the gate.  He’s also brought a World Baseball Classic pool to Jalisco and was said to be eyeing the 2019 Caribbean Series until baseball honchos in Puerto Rico recently decided to host the event despite financial problems on the island in recent years.  As ambitious and successful as he’s been, Navarro has yet to learn one more aspect of solid team ownership: Patience.  Then again, he’s hardly alone.

The Charros have some serious ground to gain if they have postseason hopes. After finishing seventh in the first half, Jalisco remains in seventh in the LMP's second half at 6-12. Mazatlan has snuck into first at 12-6, ahead of Mexicali and Navojoa at 11-7. Los Mochis is fourth at 10-8, Hermosillo is fifth at 9-9 and Obregon's 8-10 mark puts them sixth. First-half champs Culiacan bring up the rear at 5-13.

In the LMP batting race, Mexicali catcher Luis Juarez has gone 14-for-31 (.4452) in his past eight games to overtake Jalisco’s Agustin Murillo for the lead with a .361 average, seven ahead of Aguilas teammate Chris Roberson.  Murillo has fallen to fifth at .329.  Hermosillo’s Jose Amador tops the loop with 14 homers and 51 RBIs.  The Naranjeros’ third sacker also leads the MexPac with a .581 slugging percentage to go with his .301 batting average.  

Navojoa’s Quincy Latimore is second with 10 homers and David Washington of Hermosillo is third with 8.  Obregon outfielder Corey Wimberly and Navojoa’s rookie utilityman Rando Arozarena are tied for the lead with 16 stolen bases apiece.  The veteran Wimberly has been a little smarter on the basepaths, though, going 16-for-20 on steals attempts while the young Cuban is 16-for-26.

Mexicali’s Javier Solano has only one loss to show for his two starts since November 29, but he still leads the LMP in wins with a 7-3 record.  Julian Arballo of Los Mochis is 6-1 while Navojoa ace Hector Velazquez is 6-3 after losing his last two starts.  Velazquez leads the league with 74 strikeouts in 67 innings with just 14 walks.  Hermosillo veteran Juan Pablo Oramas (4-2) leads all starters with a 1.82 earned-run average while his WHIP of 1.10 is tops among qualifiers.

One newcomer who’s shown well is former Mariners starter Blake Beavan, who’s gone 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA for Obregon in six starts.  Never a hard thrower despite his 6’7” size, the Texan righty has given up just five walks in 34 innings and his WHIP of 0.94 would lead the MexPac if he had enough innings to qualify.  At the other end of the spectrum, it’s been a woeful winter for Culiacan’s Hector Daniel Rodriguez.  The MVP of last February’s Caribbean Series as a playoff pickup of the Mazatlan Venados, Rodriguez is just 2-6 for the Tomateros and is tied for the most losses in the LMP.  He’s lost six of his last seven decisions.

Mexicali closer Jake Sanchez has converted saves in his last seven appearances to bring his season total to 14, three ahead of Hermosillo’s Paul Sewald.  Sanchez is a native of Brawley, California and pitched collegiately for Iowa Wesleyan before spending two years in indy ball prior to signing with the White Sox in 2013.  Sanchez was a starter with some success his first three years, going 30-18 overall in the Chisox and Oakland organizations through 2015, but was converted to reliever at the A’s AA Midland affiliate last summer and went 7-5 with 8 saves.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Five LMB players handed drug suspensions; Blackley, Hankerd under review

The Mexican League has given multiple-game suspensions to five players, including three members of the Tijuana Toros, for violation of Minor League Baseball's banned substance policy.  Two others, Puebla pitcher Travis Blackley and Mexico City first basemen Cyle Hankerd, will be reviewed by a committee.

The longest suspension belongs to Yucatan outfielder Albino Contreras, who will sit 100 games for use of amphetamines because it's his second such suspension.  Contreras will also be required to miss the playoffs shoud the Leones qualify.  The 36-year-old Obregon native hit .208 in 49 games last summer, his second in Merida after spending eight years in the Quintana Roo Tigres outfield.  Prior to that, Contreras was in Puebla from 2001 through 2006.  He's a career .294 batter over 15 Liga seasons with 82 homers.

Tijuana outfielder Olmo Rosario and pitcher Miguel Angel Gonzalez each received 50-game suspensions for amphetamine use while Monterrey pitcher Hassan Pena was docked 50 games after testing positive for marijuana.   The 36-year-old Rosario, who spent time in the Rays and Giants system as well as a number of years in independent leagues and two in Italy, batted .313 for the Toros in 2016 after hitting .343 for Monclova one year earlier.  Pena is a 31-year-old Cuban and former Nationals minor leaguer who was 5-1 with a 5.28 ERA in 30 outings for the Sultanes last summer.  Gonzalez, frankly, is a mystery to BBM.  There have been two pitchers named Miguel Angel Gonzalez in the Mexican League in past years, but half an hour of research has turned up no evidence that neither has thrown a pitch since 2012 while nobody by that name appeared in the LMB in 2016.  The only name on the Tijuana roster that comes close is 38-year-old Texan Michael Gonzalez, a former Major Leaguer who was 0-2 with five saves in 38 appearances for the Toros this year, but that's not the name on the press release put out by the LMB.

Contreras, Rosario, Pena and Gonzalez (by whatever name) will also be required to sit for the playoffs should they be on the roster of a team that qualifies for the postseason in August.  A fifth player, veteran second baseman Carlos Valencia (also of Tijuana) will miss 50 games in 2017 but allowed to appear in the playoffs.  Valencia, a 37-year-old veteran of 17 Liga seasons, is a career .284 batter with 229 homers who has played in four LMB All-Star Games, winning MVP honors in 2009.

The cases of Blackley and Hankerd are not so clear-cut.  Both tested positive for banned substances, but they are prescription-related.  As a result, the two extraneros will be interviewed by a committee of specialists who will determine whether the medications in question are enough to warrant the suspension of either player.  Blackley, 34, is a former MLB hurler went 8-8 for Puebla during the regular season before going on to be awarded Playoff MVP by the Liga as a key member of the Pericos postseason pennant run.  The 31-year-old Hankerd is a former USC Trojan and Diamondbacks farmhand who hit .322 with 16 homers for the Diablos Rojos while splitting time between first base and right field this summer after playing first base on Mazatlan's Caribbean Series champions last winter.

None of the players performing in the Mexican Pacific League this winter have received suspensions from that circuit, which operates independently from either the Mexican League or Minor League Baseball.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Navojoa clobbers Los Mochis, 10-0; holds one-game LMP lead

Shortstop Niko Vasquez went 4-for-4 with a homer and double while starter Zack Dodson pitched six innings of two-hit shutout ball to lead the Navojoa Mayos to a 10-0 thrashing of the Los Mochis Caneros Tuesday night in Mexican Pacific League play Tuesday night.  A gathering of 4,931 looked on at Navojoa's Estadio Manuel "Ciclon" Echeverria as the Mayos extended their second half record to 9-4, good enough for a one-game lead over 8-5 Mexicali in the LMP standings. The Caneros dropped to sixth with a 6-7 mark.

Vasquez spent five years in the Cardinals system and another three in the independent Frontier League before joining Laguna of the Mexican League this summer, batting .275 with 17 homers in 100 games for the Vaqueros.  He's gone 7-of-9 over the past two games for the Mayos to lift his MexPac average to .356 this winter.  Dodson, who went 31-45 in seven years as a Pirates farmhand before going 2-1 for Laredo of the independent American Association in 2016, raised his record for the Mayos to 4-3 after his third consecutive strong outing.  He's allowed two earned runs while striking out 16 in 18 innings.  Dodson had been traded to the Orioles last winter but was suspended for 100 games in 2016 after receiving the third drug-related sitdown of his career.

After a disastrous first half, during which they won just 9 of 35 games, Mazatlan has won 7 of 12 in the second stanza to pull into third place in the MexPac behind Navojoa and Mexicali.  Conversely, first-half champion Culiacan is in the cellar after losing 10 of 13 games.

Jalisco 3B Agustin Murillo has a .349 batting average to top both Hermosillo OF Chris Roberson and Los Mochis OF Leandro Castro by one point at the top of the hitting tables.  A Roberson teammate, Naranjeros third baseman Jose Amador, hasn't homered since November 24 but still leads the MexPac with 12 homers, ahead of Navojoa OF Quincy Latimore's nine dingers and Hermosillo 1B David Washington's eight.  Culiacan OF Joey Meneses leads in RBI's with 40, one ahead of Jose Amador, while fellow Tomateros OF Ronnie Mustelier is tops with 34 runs scored.

Navojoa's rookie sensastion, Cuban SS Randy Arozarena, has taken the lead with 15 stolen bases while Obregon OF Corey Wimberly is second with 14 swipes.  Arozarena, who signed with St. Louis for $1.25 million last year and led the Northern Mexican League with a .377 average and 42 steals for Tecate this summer, is hitting .331 for the Mayos.  Baseball America's Ben Badler says, "Based on his present ability, Arozarena should be ready for a High Class A assignment, although the Cardinals haven't yet said where he'll begin his career."  The 21-year-old Arozarena played short, second and center field for Pinar Del Rio in the Cuban National Series, batting .291 his last season in 2014-15 before defecting to Mexico.  His Mexican League rights are held by the Tijuana Toros.

Mexicali pitcher Javier Solano (7-3) won four straight starts between November 11 and 29 to take the LMP lead with seven wins. Navojoa's Hector Velazquez (6-2) was racked up in Jalisco for ten hits and six runs Saturday befor being yanked in the fifth, but he still has six wins (second in the loop), a 2.49 ERA (third) and 65 strikeouts (first) after ten starts.  Hermosillo's Juan Pablo Oramos (4-1) leads with a 1.88 ERA.  Mexicali closer Jake Sanchez is in the midst of a phenomenal season.  Sanchez, an A's farmhand who converted to relief with AA Midland last summer, has yet to allow an earned run in 19 one-inning appearances and leads the LMP with 12 saves.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Jays' Osuna inks deal with Jalisco, to report Friday

With a month remaining in the regular season, Mexican Pacific League teams are beginning to load up their rosters for the stretch drive and the January playoffs.  It's a longstanding tradition in the MexPac and the Jalisco Charros are making the most of it by bringing in one of the American League's top closers this week.

Toronto Blue Jays reliever Roberto Osuna, who grew up near former LMP city Guasave, Sinaloa, has signed a contract with Jalisco for the rest of the winterball season and is expected to join the Charros by Friday this week.  Osuna's league rights were originally owned by Guasave before the Algodoneros moved to Guadalajara prior to the 2014-15 season.  He becomes the second reliever with significant MLB experience to agree to terms with the Charros this year, along with former Giants middleman Sergio Romo, a nine-year veteran who is currently a free agent.  Romo is expected to make his MexPac debut Tuesday in Mexicali.

Osuna signed with Toronto as a 16-year-old free agent for $1.5 million in 2011 after making 13 appearances out of the bullpen for the Mexican League's Mexico City Diablos Rojos that summer, going 0-1 with a 5.49 ERA.  He spent three years in the Jays system but missed significant time after suffering an elbow injury in 2013 that required Tommy john surgery and sidelined him for over a year.  After making the Jays as a non-roster spring training invitee, the 6'2" righthander made his Major League debut for Toronto at age 20 on April 8, 2015 against the New York Yankees and struck out the first batsman he faced, future Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez.

Since then, Osuna has gone on to post 56 saves with a 2.63 earned-run average, including 36 saves for Toronto this year.  He's also pitched 14 playoff games in relief for the Jays in 2015 and 2016, winning one game and saving another in the AL Division Series against Texas this fall.  His 56 career saves are an MLB record for pitchers under 22 years old.

It's been quite a ride over the past decade for Osuna, who quite school at age 12 to help support his family by picking vegetables alongside his father Roberto Senior, who was 90-97 with a 4.07 ERA pitching in the Mexican League between 1984 to 1999 (going 37-25 in four summers with Monterrey from 1988-91).  His uncle Antonio pitched eleven years in the Majors (six with the Dodgers) before wrapping up his career in the Liga, representing the Quintana Roo Tigres at the 2007 LMB All-Star Game.

Friday, December 2, 2016

WBC schedule released; Jalisco opener on March 9

The dates and game times for the 2017 Baseball World Cup have been released. Guadalajara will be one of the four Pool play host cities (along with Seoul, Tokyo and Miami) for the 16-team event.

Mexico will host Italy, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in Pool D at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco, opening on Thursday, March 9 when they take on Italy at 9PM Eastern time.  In all, there will be six round-robin contests over four days in Guadalajara, followed by a Mach 13 play-in game for the WBC's semifinal round should two national teams tie for first place after three games apiece:

9:00PM ET  Italy vs. Mexico

FRIDAY, March 10
9:00PM ET  Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico

SATURDAY, March 11   
3:00PM ET  Venezuela vs. Italy
9:30PM ET  Puerto Rico vs. Mexico

SUNDAY, March 12   
3:30PM ET    Italy vs. Puerto Rico
10:00PM ET  Venezuela vs. Mexico

MONDAY, March 13 
 9:00PM ET  Play-in game (if needed)

Ticket prices have not been announced.

This will mark the WBC's first appearance in Mexico since 2009, when Mexico City hosted Cuba, Australia and South Africa in Pool B play at Foro Sol.  A total of 92,665 attended the six contests for an average of 15,444 per game.  That figure will not be reached in Guadalajara, where Estadio Charros has 13,000 permanent seats for Mexican Pacific League baseball (although the venue could be expanded with extra seating in the outfield).

As the WBC approaches, however, discussion around the event (first played in 2006) has turned to its long-term viability.  The brainchild of former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was intended to build interest in baseball on a global basis.  Although the WBC has not harmed the sport's growth internationally, attendance at games has been spotty at best, particularly in Pool play.  While games involving the host nation have at times drawn more than 30,000 and Final Four tilts typicall top the 40,000 mark, those involving non-host nations routinely have fewer than 20,000 people in the stands and it's not unusual to see fewer than 10,000 at the ballpark.  Overall, the WBC has averaged just over 20,000 per game in 2009 and 2013 but the latter tournament saw gatherings of just 4,478 and 5,140 for the first two Pool games in Phoenix while the Pool in Taipei was positively embarrassing, with fewer than 1,500 souls rattling around Intercontinental Baseball Stadium for the three games not involving Taiwan's team.

BBM reader Chris Kabout in Amsterdam forwarded us a story from the Dutch Baseball Hangout site discussing how MLB and their partners will move forward after 2017, quoting a tweet from ESPN Deportes' Cristian Moreno: "I've been told by multiple sources related to World Baseball Classic the 2017 possibly final edition unless legit $$$ earnings come."

PERSONAL OPINION TIME: Revenue will always be a concern for any worldwide sporting event, but may perhaps make more sense for WBC organizers to streamline the event to reduce costs. I believe the WBC could fit into a six-day window by replacing the current 16-day schedule allowing for three days of double-elimination Pool play doubleheaders at four sites, followed by one travel day for Pool winners, one day of semifinals and one day for a championship game at the same venue.  Chris added that AAA ballparks would be suitable for most future Pool play games and I agree.  What's the need for 45,000 seats if over 30,000 of them are empty?